Michael Kownacky

Program Host

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.

You can also hear Michael, along with his The Dress Circle co-host, on JazzOn2, every Wednesday evening from 7pm, eastern, for Strike Up the Band, a program celebrating the big bands and dance bands of jazz.

Ways to Connect

We’ll be off to Spain and tilting at windmills on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/15 3:00 p.m.) with Jules Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Ferruccio Furlanetto is the fabled knight of the “Woeful Countenance” and Clementine Margaine his Dulcinee.  Along for the ride will be Nicola Alaimo as the faithful Sancho.  Sir Andrew Davies conducts the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  Join host Michael Kownacky for an afternoon that will continue with more music of Massenet including his short two-act opera “Therese” featuring Agnes Baltsa and Francisco Araiza.  

We’re going to be showcasing something we think that’s missing in many places on this week’s Dress Circle (9/15 7:00 p.m.): heart.  Our songs with heart come from shows including “Chess,” “Carnival,” “On Your Toes,” “Damn Yankees,” “The New Starlight Express,” and “Tarzan” as well as others including “The Land of Smiles,” “Inside U.S.A.”, “Spring Is Here,” and “Leave It to Me.”   We’ll look at hopeful hearts, stalwart hearts, broken hearts, and giddy hearts, but with everything said and done, we still “gotta have” it.

We’re celebrating another composer whose name may be unfamiliar, but his works certainly aren’t on this week’s Dress Circle (9/8 7:00 p.m.).  His name is Walter Donaldson, and his career spanned some four decades from the 1910s until his death in 1947.  His career began as a composer on Tin Pan Alley, eventually writing for Irving Berlin’s publishing company after he served in World War I.  In 1928, he left Berlin to form his own publishing company and went on to write over 600 songs, including many used in films.  Some of the films we’ll be visiting include, “Ziegfeld Girl,” “Panama Hattie,” “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes,” and “Whoopee” among others.  

Everything that makes grand opera grand – passion, lies, betrayal, madness, murder, and suicide – are on tap for this week’s Sunday Opera (9/8 3:00 p.m.) in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.   Lucia and Edgardo are from two feuding families in 17th century Scotland, but they are in love.  This love is thwarted by Lucia’s brother Enrico who lies to her that Edgardo has been unfaithful so that she will marry another to benefit him, and the tragic events are set in action.   You’ll hear Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia, Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, and Quinn Kelsey as Enrico with Enrique Mazzola leading the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.  

In three short months, we’ll be welcoming the year 2020, but on this week’s Dress Circle (9/1 7:00 p.m.) we’ll settle for welcoming September with selections from some of the shows that have opened in September.  We’ll once again be looking at over 100 years of theatre history with our earliest show being “The Red Mill” from 1906 and our most recent, “Chaplin” which opened in 2012.  Along the way, we’ll have music from favorites like “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” (with Angela Lansbury) and some abject fun from musicals like “Fine and Dandy” and “Urinetown.”

Mozart’s fantastic romp “The Magic Flute” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago is this week’s offering on The Sunday Opera (9/1 3:00 p.m.).  Prince Tamino is charged with passing a series of tests to win the hand of Princess Pamina whose mother just happens to be the wicked Queen of the Night whose well-known aria in which she condemns her daughter to painful death unless Pamina kills the Queen’s wizard rival Sarastro is consistently used to try to sell cars for some reason.  With the help of the bumbling “bird man” Papageno, Tamino wins his love and the Queen and her minions are defeated!  

The Dress Circle is heading back to school on this week’s program (8/25 7:00 p.m.), and we know it’s a favorite for many parents.  We have some old favorites again this year from “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” “Wonderful Town,” “Charlie Chalk,” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  We’re also including songs from “Too Many Girls,” “High Button Shoes,” “All-American,” “School of Rock,” “Passion Flower Hotel,” and several others.   Amid the school and fight songs, we’ve peppered some abject fun, so you’ll just have to tune in to find out what we’ve included this year.  

This week’s Sunday Opera (8/25 3:00 p.m.) travels back to ancient Gaul for a tale of forbidden love and betrayal in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  In it, the Druid priestess Norma has fallen in love with the pro-counsel of the invading Roman forces, Pollione, and against the law, has had two children with him.  When Pollione abandons Norma for one of her attending priestesses, Adalgisa, it sets in motion the tragedy which ends in death for Norma and Pollione in the sacrificial flames. 

Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it can help make dark days a bit brighter, and on this week’s Dress Circle (8/18 7:00 p.m.) we’re asking the musical question, “Will this make you laugh?”  We’ve put together a program of songs and sketches from some stellar comedians including Stan Freberg, Joyce Grenfell, Tom Lehrer, Elaine May & Mike Nichols, Peter Sellers, Stanley Holloway, and a few more.  

It’s an afternoon of classical invaders on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/18 3:00 p.m.) that begins with Verdi’s “Attila” from La Scala in Milan featuring Ildar Adbrazakov in the title role and Saioa Hernandez as Odabella.  Riccardo Chailly conducts a cast that also in cludes George Petean, Fabio Sartori, Francesco Pittari, and Gianluco Bratto.  After the opera, join Michael Kownacky for other invasions including Shostakovich’s 7th or “Leningrad” Symphony, Janacek’s Taras Bulba Rhapsody, and a bit of Poledouris’ score for “Conan the Barabarian.”

On October 7, 1948, a new musical by Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner opened at the 46th Street Theatre, and although it was a moderate success, running 252 performances, there was no cast recording of any of the songs due to a musician’s strike.  We’ll try to remedy that a bit on this week’s Dress Circle (8/11 7:00 p.m.) as we turn to various sources to present 12 of the 22 songs from the score.  The show is “Love Life” which is subtitled “A Vaudeville,” and it follows the trials of a married couple who never age from 1791 to 1948.  

Join us as we jet off to Rome for this week’s Sunday Opera (8/11 3:00 p.m.) and the Teatro dell’Opera’s production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” featuring Carlo Vistoli and Mariangela Sicilia as the doomed lovers and Emoke Barath as Amore with Gianluca Capuano leading the chorus and orchestra of the Rome Opera.  After the opera, join Michael Kownacky for more music based on the Orpheus legend with Jacques Offenbach’s wonderful send-up, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” in its only complete English translation by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.  

Since there are so many fewer show openings in July because it’s right after the Tonys and August because of the heat, we’ve always combined the months, and we’ll be surveying over 100 years-worth of openings on this week’s Dress Circle (8/4 7:00 p.m.).  Beginning in 1917 and 1918 with two Jerome Kern shows, “Leave It to Me” and “Head Over Heels,” we’ll continue with songs from “Miss Liberty,” “This is the Army,” "Simply Heavenly,"  “Hairspray,” and “Song of Norway” to the 2018 opening of “Pretty Woman: The Musical.”  

We’ll begin a series of European opera productions brought to us through RAI, Italian National Public Broadcasting, and the first opera comes to us from Foggia and the Rossini Opera Festival on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/4 3:00 p.m.).  “Adina” is a somewhat forgotten 1826 “farsa” that looks to the same source material for “The Abduction from the Seraglio” for its story about a lost daughter, Adina, who is recognized by her father, the Calaph, just before she is to be put to death for trying to run away with the man she loves.  

July 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the true musical giants of Broadway and Hollywood, and we wanted to celebrate his career on this week’s Dress Circle (7/28 7:00 p.m.).   Frank Henry Loesser wrote wonderfully memorable songs for stage and screen musicals.  Of course, we’ll be including his Oscar winning song from “Neptune’s Daughter,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” but we’ll also be including songs from the film musical “Hans Christian Anderson” and from the stage, “Where’s Charley?”, “Greenwillow,” the Tony Award winning “Guys and Dolls.” 

Two of Umberto Giordano’s thirteen operas will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (7-28  3:00 p.m.)  First, we conclude our series from London’s Royal Opera House with what is probably his best known work, “Andrea Chenier,” which is about the 18th century French poet who was sent to the guillotine by a jealous man because of his love for Maddalena, who is also loved by that man, Carlo Gerard.  The cast includes Roberto Alagna as Chenier, Sondra Radvanovsky as Maddalena who switches places with another so that she can die with Chenier, and Dimitri Platanias as the jealous Gerard.  

There are several CD labels in Europe that deal with re-issues and “nostalgia,” and we’ll be sampling from the catalogue of one of them on this week’s Dress Circle (7-21 7:00 p.m.) as we look at releases on the Stage Door label.  We’ve got some unfamiliar works coming from their “Lost West End Vintage” series with songs by the likes of Noel Coward, Julian Slade, and Lionel Bart from shows such as “Ace of Clubs,” “Vanity Fair,” and “Lock Up Your Daughters.”  From their “Lost Broadway” series, we’ll go to 1961 for songs from “The Happiest Girl in the World,” “Milk and Honey,” and “Sail Away,” among others.   

Benjamin Brittan’s treatment of Herman Melville’s final novel “Billy Budd” is this week’s Sunday Opera (7/21 3:00 p.m.) from London’s Royal Opera House.  This tale of obsession and remorse is played out against the perilous life on the 18th century warship Indomitable.  The good-natured Billy is the object of scorn of the master-at-arms Claggart who goes out of his way to make sure that Billy is destroyed much to the remorse of the captain, Edward Vere, who realizes that he could have saved Billy had he paid attention.  

“Broadway rhythm it’s got me.  Everybody Dance!” on this week’s Dress Circle (7/14 7:00 p.m.) as we look at how rhythm has appeared in songs from some well-known and lesser-known shows and a few film scores (which just happen to be films about producing stage shows).  Our shows include “Strike Up the Band,” “Crazy for You,” and “Lady, Be Good!’ with songs by the Gershwins.  Some of the other better-known shows include “Sweet Charity,” “Carmen Jones,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  

Whether you call it “The Force of Destiny” or “The Power of Fate,” Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” from London’s Royal Opera House is this week’s Sunday Opera (7/14 3:00 p.m.).  After its premier in St. Petersburg in 1862, the opera was revised for a performance in Rome in 1863 under the title of “Don Alvaro.”  From there, it was further revised for performances in New York and Vienna in 1865, Buenos Aires in 1866, and London in 1867 with further extensive revisions to both the music and libretto for a La Scala performance in 1869, and that final revision has become the standard version.  

George and Ira Gershwin are the featured composing team on this week’s Dress Circle (7-7 7:00 p.m.) on a program entitled “Gershwin Interpreted.”  Some of the theatre songs include “I Got Rhythm,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Mine,” and “Sweet and Low Down.”  Interpreting these works and more are favorites like Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, Jimmy Dorsey, Lena Horne, and Cliff Edwards.  We’ll also be including The Boston Pops in an orchestral arrangement of Gershwin’s Three Preludes and Larry Adler in a unique rendition of Rhapsody in Blue.   

We’ll journey to 18th century St. Petersburg on this week’s Sunday Opera (7-7 3:00 p.m.) and a story of obsession in Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades” from London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.  Hermann seems to be fascinated by gambling although he never gambles himself.  However, after hearing about an aging countess who holds the secret to a winning three-card combination, he finds he cannot help but confront the old woman for her secret which begins his spiral into an obsession which results in death and ruin.  Antonio Pappano conducts a cast that includes Aleksandrs Antonenko as Hermann, Felicity Palmer as the aging Countess, Eva-Maria Westbroek as her granddaughter Liza, who tragically falls in love with Hermann.   

We’re celebrating the career of Doris Day on this week’s Dress Circle (6/30 7:00 p.m.) whom we lost on May 13th of this year at the age of 97.  Day never appeared on Broadway, so we’ll be focused on her beginnings as a big band singer with Les Brown and some of her in musicals and films like “Romance on the High Seas,” “My Dream Is Yours,” “It’s a Great Feeling,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Calamity Jane,” and several more.  Join us to remember a lovely voice and a charming performer who became a tireless advocate for animal rights.

Travel back to 14th century Genoa with this week’s Sunday Opera (6/30 3:00 p.m.) and Giuseppe Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” from London’s Royal Opera House.  Simon, a former pirate, is now the Doge of Genoa who is working for peace between Genoa and Venice while dealing with unrest from his own people and the loss of his one true love.  Carlos Alvarez leads the cast as Simon, Ferrucio Furlanetto is Jacopo Fiesco, his rival and the father of his beloved, Hrchuhi Bassnez is Amelia, Boccanegra’s “lost” daughter, Francesco Meli is Gabriele, Amelia’s beloved, and Mark Rucker is the treacherous Paolo.  Henrik Nansi conducts.  

For those of us of an age, Sunday nights meant one thing: Ed Sullivan, and we’re going to be looking at some musical memories from the Ed Sullivan show on this week’s Dress Circle (6/23 7:00 p.m.).  We’ll do this through a series of CDs on the TVT label that preserved some of the wonderful performances, many of which couldn’t be seen elsewhere.  We’ll sample four of these sets.  Two dedicated to Broadway, one to Rodgers and Hammerstein, and a final set featuring opera performances by stars like Roberta Peters.  

Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried” comes to the Sunday Opera this week (6/23 3:00 p.m.) from London’s Covent Garden.  The third installment of the Ring cycle follows Siegfried in his quest to learn fear as he kills the dragon Fafner and finds Brunhilde with whom he immediately falls in love, and that love teaches him fear through his desperation.  Sefan Vinke heads the cast as Siegfried, Gerhard Siegel is Mime, John Lundgren is Wotan, and Johannes Martin Kranzle is Albreich.  Antonio Pappano conducts. 

Every dog has his day, but that was last week.  This week’s Dress Circle (6/16 7:00 p.m.) is all in praise of cats.  Of course, we’ll hear songs from that little piece by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but we’ll also visit “An American Tail,” “The People vs. Mona,” “Goldilocks,” “What’s New Pussycat,” and a musical version of “Lord of the Rings.”  We may not have a “Kitten on the Keys,” but we will have a few dances like “The Pussy Foot” and “Chester the Cat – A Feline One-Step.”  You may also find out why some people say, “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron.” 

Wagner’s warrior women are storming this week’s Sunday Opera (6/16 3:00 p.m.) with the production of “Die Walkure” from London’s Royal Opera House.  Several members of the company of “Das Rheingold” are returning here, with John Lundgren once again appearing as Wotan.  Lise Davidsen appears here as Ortlinde and Sarah Connolly is Fricka.  Joining them are Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Emily Magee as Sieglinde, Ain Anger as Hunding, and Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde.  

“Man’s best friend” is the subject for this week’s Dress Circle (6/9 7:00 p.m.) as we look at how the musicals portray people’s canine companions.  Funny or poignant, we’ll have songs from “Top Banana,” “Radio Gals,” “Lucky Stiff,” “Snoopy,” and “As Thousands Cheer.”  We’ll even hear from Noel Coward and his revue “Words and Music.”  The program may be going to the dogs this week, but the music will still be fabulous!

Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” begins on The Sunday Opera this week (6/9 3:00 p.m.) – Well, three out of four!  This week is “Das Rheingold” featuring a stellar cast including Johannes Martin Kranzle as Alberich, Lauren Fagan as Woglinde, Christina Bok as Wellgunde, and Andela Simkin as Flosshilde.  Wotan is John Lundgren, Fricka is Sara Connolly, and Freia is Lise Davidsen.  

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